MANILA, May 1, (Agencies): The Philippines Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is set to fly to Kuwait on May 7 to what the Philippines government said “iron out” differences with the Kuwaiti government and rekindle warm ties, according to UNTV news.
The presidential spokesman Harry Roque in a press briefing Monday at the Malacanang said, the administration is hopeful that the two governments will push through with the stalled negotiations on the bilateral agreement on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) protection.
However, he added, the total deployment ban of workers to Kuwait stays but “the precondition set by the President is really the signing of that memorandum of agreement.” Roque reiterated the Philippines is committed to protecting the welfare of the OFWs who choose to stay in Kuwait despite President Duterte’s appeal for them to come home. “We have a mission there to protect our nationals, and Kuwait also is duty bound to protect aliens under the standards dictated by the international law,” Roque added.
In the meantime, the government of the Philippines Tuesday welcomed the statement issued by Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah expressing his government’s readiness to work with Manila to address the concerns of OFWs in Kuwait.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano reciprocated saying, “This gesture on the part of Kuwait, a country with which we have a shared history and strong people-to-people ties, will allow us to move forward and hurdle the challenges we face.” Cayetano, in an apparent effort to break the deadlock caused by the controversial rescue of Filipino domestic helpers in Kuwait, acknowledged “with heartfelt thanks” the assurances given by Kuwait to work with the Philippines to protect the rights and promote welfare of OFWs.
Cayetano also affirmed the government to government friendship between the two countries will withstand the misunderstanding.
Earlier, Al-Jarallah was quoted as saying Kuwait stands ready to cooperate with the Philippines to explore all means to address labor issues, including the almost 800 OFWs who are currently staying at temporary shelters in Kuwait.
However, at the same time Al-Jarallah pointed out Kuwait “rejects any breach against its sovereignty or laws and would act decisively against any relevant attempt.” Cayetano in his statement has sidestepped the ‘breach’ issue, which apparently was the main cause of the current diplomatic spat — the rescue mission to help distressed OFWs from the households of their employers in Kuwait.
Prior to the end of the April 22 deadline on the amnesty granted by the Kuwaiti government to all undocumented foreign nationals, the combined DFA-Embassy teams conducted several rescue operations, videotaped at least two incidents, and later distributed the footages to the members of the media which angered the Kuwaiti authorities and led to the declaration of Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa persona non grata.
According to gmanetwork.com Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Subaih said Kuwait does not want the conflict with the Philippines to escalate despite taking a “serious stance” on the diplomatic row and added, Kuwait wants to “remain in direct communication” with the Philippines to resolve the issue.
In the meantime, the Kuwaiti government is believed to be requesting the Philippines government to hand over the four people who are currently seeking refuge at the Embassy, including a high-ranking official from the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA). Khaled Al-Jarallah, meanwhile, on Tuesday met with visiting Filipino Presidential Adviser on OFWs Abdullah Mamao and his accompanying delegation.
During the meeting, they discussed the recent labor row between the State of Kuwait and the Philippines. They stressed the depth of friendly relations between both sides, pointing to mutual willingness to promote and develop them, and to overcome the crisis for the common interest of both countries.
The meeting was attended by Assistant Foreign Minister for Asia Ambassador Ali Al-Said, Assistant Foreign Minister for Protocols Ambassador Dhari Al-Ajran, Assistant Foreign Minister for the Deputy Foreign Minister’s Office Ambassador Ayham Al- Omar and Kuwaiti Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Al-Thuwaikh.
Before relations plunged, Kuwait and the Philippines had been negotiating a labour deal that could have resulted in the lifting of the ban on Filipinos leaving to work in the Gulf state. In a speech marking Labour Day, Duterte reiterated his long-standing condition that Kuwait implement more worker safeguards before the standoff can end.
“We are pushing for better protection of migrant workers especially those in vulnerable groups such as domestic helpers or household workers in the Middle East,” he said.
The president added the protections should include guarantees that Filipina maids be allowed to keep their phones and passports, which some employers confiscate to keep the workers in line. Duterte also repeated an offer of free transport to Filipinos in Kuwait who want to return home, promising assistance when they get back. “We shall mobilise continuously till everyone who wants (to come back) will come home,” he said.
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry. Duterte previously said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.